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Bonny Lass of Anglesey

[ Roud 3931 ; Child 220 ; Ballad Index C220 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang Bonny Lass of Anglesey on his 1976 Topic album Crown of Horn. This recording was also issued as his only single with the B-side Palaces of Gold. He commented in the record's sleeve notes:

The idea of a champion to do one's fighting is older than David and Goliath by far, only not many of them seem to be women. Peter Buchan said about the Bonny Lass of Anglesey: “It is altogether a political piece and I do no wish to interfere much with it.” While echoing the “much” in that statement, I have stretched the idea slightly, added a few verses, and she appears as a formidable sister-in-arms of Fair Maid on the Shore (from Second Album), and all those others who are the despair of chauvinist males the world over. “Come Dancing” was never like this. The melody is an Irish-American fiddle tune, one of several sharing the title of Bonaparte's Retreat, and I learned it from Tom Gilfellon.

The Gaugers sang The Bonny Lass o' Anglesey in the same year on their Topic album Beware of the Aberdonian. Duncan Maclennan commented in the sleeve notes:

This song, as much as any other, illustrates The Gaugers' sympathetic reaction to texts and to the words and music of the tradition in general. The text is from Peter Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland and is to be found in Child (no. 220). The narrative is somewhat fragmented but revolves round a dance competition in which the Scots heroine tires out fifteen English partners in pursuit of a prize of property and her choice of the King's knights for husband. There may well be an underlying symbolism! With tongue in cheek, Child quotes Buchan's note: “It is altogether a political piece and I do not wish to interfere much with it!” Appropriately, The Gaugers have set it to a sword dance tune, Gille Calum, which is used widely in the Gaelic tradition for “port a beuil” (“mouth music” for dancing).

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Bonny Lass of Anglesey

There he sits and there he stands,
Alone and oh what a frightened king is he.
Fifteen lords have all come down
To dance and gain the victory.

Our king he keeps a good treasure
And he keeps it locked with a silver key,
But fifteen lords have all come down
To dance his gold and his lands away.

There he stands at the castle high
And oh so loud, so loud I heard him cry:
“Go saddle your horse and bring to me
The bonny lass of Anglesey!”

Some rode North and some rode South,
There was some to the East they rode straightway.
Spied her there on the mountain high,
The bonny lass of Anglesey.

Up she starts as white as the milk
Between the king and all of his company,
Cries, “What is the price I have to ask
If I do gain the victory?”

“Fifteen ploughs, a house and a mill
I will give to thee till the day thou dies,
The fairest knight in all my court
To take your husband for to be.”

“Fifteen ploughs, a house and a mill,
Come now that's no prize for the victory.
And there's no knight in all your court
That shall have me as a wife to be.”

Up she starts as white as the milk;
She danced light as a leaf on the broken sea
Till fifteen lords all cried aloud
For the bonny lass of Anglesey.

She's taken fifteen one by one,
Saying, “Sweet kind sir, will you dance with me?”
But e'er it's ten o'clock o' the night
They gave it o'er right shamefully.

But up and rose the fifteenth knight
And oh what an angry man was he;
He laid aside his buckler and sword
Before he strode so manfully.

And he's danced high and he's danced low,
And he has danced the livelong day.
He said, “My feet shall be my death
E'er she gains the victory.”

“Oh my feet shall be my death
E'er this lass do gain the victory.”
But e'er it's ten o'clock o' the morn
He gave it o'er right shamefully.

She's taken the king all by the hand,
Saying, “Sweet kind sir, will you walk with me.”
But e'er the king has gone one step
She's danced his gold and his land away.

Saying, “Fifteen ploughs, a house and a mill,
Come now that's no price for the victory.”
And away she's gone with his treasure,
The bonny lass of Anglesey.

She's taken all their bucklers swords,
She's taken all their gold and their bright money
And back to the mountain she's away,
The bonny lass of Anglesey.

There's fifteen lords come a-swaggering down
For to dance and gain the victory,
But fifteen lords and one high king
Go all ragged and bare today.

Acknowledgements

Transcription from the Digital Tradition checked by Garry Gillard.

See also the Mudcat Café Discussion: Bonnie Lass of Anglesey with erudite input from Malcolm Douglas.